Monday, September 07, 2009

My philosophy of teaching

Listening to: 'End of the Road' by Boyz II Men [Cooleyhighharmony]

I’m currently applying for a place on the Teaching Associate Programme here, and a major part of the application form involves me detailing my philosophy of teaching. Yeah I’m not entirely sure what that is either. Well I am, kinda…it’s just that all these ideas are floating around in my head and the last time I wrote a 500-word essay was… … …you get the picture :D. Anyway, I was procrastinating over the application when Whacko talked about education in his Going Global blog (thanks for the timely - albeit unintentional - kick up the backside, Whacko!). So when I escaped to London last weekend, I took with me a print-out of his post for inspiration and a notebook, and used the train journey to jot down my thoughts. The result was a multitude of bullet points and fragmented sentences, with no continuity whatsoever. Joy. Now with the deadline looming, I have no option but to sit down and force myself to collect my thoughts. Here goes.
For those of you not familiar with the Cambridge undergraduate system, supervisions are small-group tutorials designed to complement the standard large-group lectures. I haven’t lectured yet, but I have been supervising undergraduates for three years (eek!).

If I were to summarise what I believe to be the role of a teacher, it would be to equip students with the skills they require to achieve their potential. This requires dissemination of information in a manner that enables students to understand what they learn, understand its relevance, and use it when necessary. In my experience there are four objectives that must be achieved in order for a teaching experience to be successful. They are detailed below.
  1. Instil enthusiasm

    In order to make the student receptive to the subject being taught, it is necessary to instil enthusiasm in the course and the lesson. Looking back on my personal experience, the majority of university courses that I performed well in were taught by lecturers and supervisors that were visibly enthusiastic about their subject. They created a relaxed, interactive environment conducive to learning, and encouraged discussion where appropriate. They also highlighted the relevance of their subject outside the classroom, thereby giving the student added incentive to pay attention.

  2. Promote understanding

    The Cambridge ethos has always focused heavily on mastering the fundamentals, and with good reason. Given the current rate of scientific advancement, engineering practices are rapidly evolving, but they are still based on the same scientific principles. It is therefore important to ensure that students are comfortable enough with the basics, so that (in keeping with Cambridge tradition) they may go on to be at the forefront of technological development.
    It is also important to acknowledge that intelligence and ability vary across the student population. It is the teacher’s responsibility to develop an approach that maximises the individual student’s chance of understanding the topic. I do not believe that there is a ‘one size fits all’ method in this respect. This is especially true in Engineering sciences, where there is a healthy mix of highly theoretical and practical modules. In my previous supervisions, some of my students have been able to grasp a certain concept directly from the lecture; others have required me to explain the same concept in one or more alternative ways.

  3. Assist retention

    While the teacher should make it easier for the student to understand their subject, the student has the ultimate responsibility when it comes to the retention of knowledge. The teacher can, however, improve the student’s chances at the examination by carrying out continuous assessment via examples papers, issuing revision sheets, going through exam papers from previous years, tying the course content into that of other courses to establish relevance etc. These are all methods I have used in my supervisions. As someone who has been a student on the courses that I supervise, I feel I am also able to share my personal experiences with my students, which will hopefully aid their exam preparation.

  4. Bolster confidence

    The purpose of an Engineering degree is not purely academic. It is important that once students have studied each course, they are able to use the knowledge thus gained as professionals in the field. There are many students, in my experience, whose technical knowledge is more than adequate; however they lack the confidence required to display this competency. It is a supervisor’s responsibility to recognise these students and encourage them to engage in discussions, explain concepts to less able students, and become more confident in their own ability.
It is my belief that a teacher that keeps these points in mind will be in a position to have a positive impact on their students. However, my opinion is based on three years of supervising experience, and I am well aware that I too have a lot to learn.


So erm, yeah. That’s what I think. Hopefully they'll like it. As far as I'm aware it's not something that'll affect whether I get on the programme or not, so let's see. It’s 2.50am now, and I cannot stress enough the relevance of this PhD Comic. Me go sleep now.


  1. glad to of assistance :P i like your four pillars of teaching. you seem to have put a lot of thought into them. i was wondering if you considered what Cambridge looks for in its students in terms of them being 'finished products'? a teacher will obviously be a key element in that production process, so you could have taken that into consideration when drafting ur essay.

  2. great post! Pseudo for the ruler of the world!!! ;)

  3. Man I tried teaching for a week and it is NOT for me.
    What do you do if your students are unenthusiastic intellectually challenged little trolls, oh wise one! :D

  4. Whacko - :D Well it did take a lot of thinking to come up with the four distinct 'pillars', but in practice I use them all the time. I'm glad you like them! Hmm in terms of the 'finished product', Cambridge generally expects graduates to be so proficient in the fundamentals that they can develop the applications themselves. A lot of other universities tend to focus more on current applications...Cambridge is a lot more theoretical in that respect.

    Chavie - lol thank you :-) And no thanks, 'ruler of the world' isn't really my style :P

    Mak - hehe :-) Whoa, that's a lot of negativity rolled into one human being! :D lol erm...the easiest is if they're just intellectually challenged...then you exercise patience and encourage them to work harder. You have to accept that not everyone will get 100%. If they're unenthusiastic, well then...screw 'em :D I think that's what I like about teaching in university - if the student doesn't care, I'm under no obligation to care 'for' them. It's their own funeral. "You can take a horse to water..." and all that :-).


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